Teaching English in Chile

Chile

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The following information about teaching English in Chile has been gathered from our own personal experience over the last decade and that of many other teachers that have worked in this country and have kindly given their opinions and advice. This is the stark reality of teaching English in Chile but we have heard it is similar to other countries in South America.

If you are looking for a job teaching English here in Chile, Santiago would be the best city to start. It is where a third of the country's population can be found and hence where most of the jobs will be available.


When should I come?

No institute (that we know of) will give you a job offer without being in Chile. You will find (or have probably already experienced) that if you send an e-mail, you will get no response so it pays to start looking once you are in the country.

The best time to look for teaching work in Chile is at the end of February (last days) or even better the beginning of March when everyone gets back from holiday and starts to get ready for the rest of the year. The worst time is the local summer, especially December and January. Most of Chile goes on vacation in February so it may be hard to get an interview during that period. Also most potential English students have their mind set on Christmas or holidays, not learning English.


Do I need teaching qualifications?

It will help having the CELTA or TEFL certificate you can do an though you will find some institutes will take on anyone that speaks English without any experience whatsoever since there is no local regulation. If you want to work in a local high school or college, a teaching degree is (almost) always needed. Of course, the more reputable language schools will ask for a teaching certificate. An Online TEFL course (aff) we recommend is i-to-i (with over 100,000 satisfied clients).

How do I find work?

English teaching positions are almost never published in a newspaper (unless they have a high turnover of staff). Many positions are found through word of mouth or by being in the right place at the right time. If you do the rounds of leaving your CV at Language institutes, don't just leave it at reception since it  might just end up in the bin. Try and talk to or at least organize an interview with the academic coordinator or the person responsible for hiring teachers.


Private Classes

One option outside of working at an institute is to do private classes. The best place to advertise for them is in the national newspaper 'El Mercurio' on Sundays. If you have private classes make sure they pay in advance, even if it is for only one class otherwise you might get into a terrible case of them 'forgetting' to bring the money, and then next time too and then before long you discover you've done three or four classes without getting paid. At first they might pay on time but be careful of this situation later. Chilean students are notorious for canceling at the last minute so make sure that it is clear that if they cancel, they have to do it X hours beforehand otherwise it will be included.


What type of hours will I be doing?

Most of the work offered will be during the evening and it will be very difficult to get a full time job straight away. Normally you will start with a small number of hours at an English institute and have to support your income with your own private classes. Institutes give you a few hours to begin with to see how you fit in and you should get more classes if you do your job well.

Hours are normally not very stable so it can be difficult to plan your life around work. Your hours may change from one week (or even day) to the next. If you want to start a new hobby here (like salsa classes a couple of evenings a week), you might have to not attend some of those hobby classes unless you have come to prior arrangement with your boss. Last minute emergencies also tend to happen and you might need to cover a sick teacher at the last moment so prepare to be flexible.


Classes in offices (Outside Classes)

Another point to consider is that many institutes only have an office for administration since they send their teachers out to classes in companies. Teachers are usually paid more per hour for doing classes outside of the institute though you should be aware of a number of things. Outside classes are normally far from the institute which means there may be a lot of travel time involved, and this is not usually paid for. These types of classes are often after working hours, after 6pm or if not, at some ghastly hour of the morning. If you have a class say at 8am, you will have to contend with crowded buses and it can easily take over an hour to get from one place to another. You may find yourself having to get up at 5.30am or 6am to arrive on time at 8am. If you are only paid for a one-hour class (which it normally is at that time), you start to reconsider taking up another profession. If you are offered outside classes, check to see if you are paid for travel time and bus fares.


How are the classes?

Classes can be one-on-one private classes but in most institutes you will find between 6 and 20 students in your class. Chilean students are a lot more interactive and participate more in class than Asian students. They may be a little shy at the beginning, though it usually doesn't last long for them to come out of their shell.

Many institutes don't have their own set class material to use. Teachers are usually expected to prepare their own classes which can be difficult when the institute doesn't have their own books or anything to help you. Occasionally they may let teachers use the internet to help prepare classes. Whether they have their own material or not is something you should ask in the interview.

On the other hand a few places do have their own teaching system in place which varies in quality. It can make your classes easier to organize though you may not be able to sidetrack from the content. There is one institute that we know of (there could be more) that has microphones installed in the rooms so that administration can listen in on your class and make sure that you do stick to the guidelines. You can't use your creativity but it's good if you don't want to think more than you have to.


Contracts and working legally

If you find an institute that gives you a contract, consider yourself lucky. You will run into many English teachers who are working here without the appropriate permits. If you can't legally work in Chile, you will usually get paid under the table but without any health benefits or job security. You can get dismissed / fired from one minute to the next this way. If you have the R.U.T (or Chilean ID number) it will make your life easier since you can get a contract (it's not always offered though) or use the boleta (personal invoices) system. With Boletas, the institute will take away 10% of your earnings which will be returned to you by the tax department (if you haven't earned millions) next May. Consider it a form of obligatory savings. Be careful of institutes that take out this 10% when you are not giving boletas since it is just an excuse to pay you less. They pocket the money themselves.

Many teachers who don't have the appropriate working documentation (visas, contract etc.) find that they will be on a tourist visa which means that they have to leave the country every 90 days. What most people do in this case is the 'Mendoza run'. This means spending your weekend getting there and back, usually by way of an 8 hour bus journey (each way). Mendoza is a lovely city in Argentina and one of the cheapest and easiest to get to from Santiago. Be careful when planning your visa renewal in winter since if you go by bus, which is the cheapest alternative, you have to cross the Andes mountains to get to Mendoza and sometimes the border is closed due to snow. Many teachers have been trapped on the other side in winter, unable to get back to class on Monday. At first traveling every 3 months can be fun though many teachers find it a burden later on.

Something that you have to be aware of if your institute doesn't offer you a contract is that you may find you are given compulsory unpaid vacations during the low season which runs from December to the end of February. This can even happen if you use the boletos system.


Can I get a teaching job before I arrive?

We actually recommend that you DON'T do this. There is a certain well known institute that mainly hires teaching staff from overseas offering (what appears to be) wonderful conditions. Once you are here you discover that it has the lowest pay of all the institutes and the health insurance doesn't cover anything but since you have the binding contract, you can't do a thing about it. Since we will not mention names here (nor via e-mail - please don't insist), try contacting the Chilean Consulate in the United States or googling certain words.

You will find that most institutes will just ignore e-mails from overseas asking about job positions so save your time and wait until you are here. Many teachers find jobs fairly quickly (outside of December, January and February) especially if you have a teaching cert and/or experience.

The best thing to do is to wait until you arrive and start looking then.


Staff relations

Usually the relationship amongst teachers is good, especially in the smaller institutes. They often hang out together after work and many times even share the same apartment. Once you have been here a couple of years, you will get to know the ins and outs of many institutes from what fellow teachers have said. Many teachers, academic coordinators and institute staff know each other even though they work at different places and people usually know who is working where should a new position come up. Fellow teachers tend to help each other out.

In general, teachers are treated like crap by the institutes themselves as some bosses seem to think they can lift up a stone and find another teacher just like that (which at certain times of year is sometimes true). They don't tend to worry about continuity or quality. Be especially careful if your boss is Chilean since they have a habit of firing teachers for the smallest reason. Sometimes Chilean owners are in it for the quick money and you'll be lucky if even they speak any English at all (I personally know a number of them).

You should be careful of the institutes that don't ask for any type of teaching certification as there are many around that start and disappear overnight with the students (and teachers) money.

LATEST: You might be interested in googling "English teachers on strike in Chile" to see what comes up.


Accommodation

You will almost always have to fend for yourself in terms of accommodation. Most teachers stay at a hostel for the first days or weeks until they get their bearings. You will find that some teachers share an apartment with other teachers but we recommend staying with Chileans. Doing this you will be able to see more of how Chileans really are and maybe you will be able to practice your Spanish. You can easily find rooms for rent or apartments to share but don't expect to be able to rent your own apartment easily. You will need a R.U.T. (the Chilean ID number) to be able to do it and will also need a guarantor (called 'aval' in Spanish).

You should try and find a place to stay near where you work (if it's at an institute) since it takes a long time to get from one place to another using the transport system (apart from the subway which is quick and efficient though very crowded lately). Teachers normally find accommodation in the Providencia or Santiago Centro since they are more central. Providencia is a little more expensive than Santiago Centre (and also safer) while Las Condes is another suburb which is very nice though you might not be able to cover costs on a typical teacher's salary. A good place to start looking for an apartment is with other teachers or in the Sunday edition of the Mercurio newspaper. Rooms can normally be found on supermarket notice boards too.


Setting up your own institute

I know of a number of English teachers that after a few years teaching at a variety of institutes decide to set up their own. They tend to think that than can do it better which may or may not be true. This sometimes evolves from having lots of students in the class, getting great comments from them ("you're my favourite / the best teacher") though the problem with this is that they don't normally know about how to set up a business (their own institute) in Chile.

Word of mouth works a lot in Chile (see our Business in Chile page) and Chileans have a habit of distrusting new places, especially with English institutes since SO MANY come and go and a number of them become bankrupt in a few months (mostly due to teachers without a knowledge of how businesses work in Chile and all the legalities involved). If you plan to create your own institute, I recommend that you have a lot of money to set it up to cover the running costs for the first year (or two). You should also ask for professional legal advice (you'll be surprised how much red tape you have to go through) and have a good business plan (with a Plan B & C just in case). This is the reason why so many institutes come and go. In the last six years Woodward Chile has had two competing language schools open and close in the buildings next to them. The first ran off with the students' (and teachers') money, and the second only recently closed for unknown reasons.


The Spanish Language

Teaching in Chile can be very rewarding as you get to meet many local people who in general are very friendly. Knowing the local language will make your experience here a lot easier and better. Being an English teacher though, you will find that you won't have much chance to improve your level of Spanish (if it interests you) since you will be using English most of the day and when people find out you are a teacher, they want to practice their English with you. You should learn at least some Spanish before you come as you will be surprised by just how little English is spoken here (though it is slowly improving). Otherwise you should do some type of Spanish course in Chile. Another option is doing an exchange of English classes for Spanish classes with the locals. Just remember that Chilean Spanish is difficult to learn at the beginning since they speak so quickly but if you can learn it here, you'll be able to get by easily in any other Spanish-speaking country.


A final note...

We would like to include the average salary / per hour rate of different institutes on this page for reference and also which ones offer a contract and treat you well (or not so well). Send us your experiences and thoughts about teaching in Chile so we can help others who would like to teach here.


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Last Updated: 14 March 2014
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